Trusting Your Allies

I’ve been driven by insomnia to finally reading a lot of this thread, looking to catch up on some of what has now led to the (temporary) disappearance of a feminist blog-voice, this time attached to a white face. One of the comments that got some attention relatively early on was from Tiffany in Houston (comment #73):

all these charades remind me of something my grandma used to say: Be careful when you are dealing with white folks, because one day they wake up and realize they’re white and you ain’t. Truer words have never been spoken.

This is why this 34 year old black woman doesn’t call herself a feminist.

When it comes down to it, you white chicks, ya’ll really aren’t to be trusted.

Once again, I’ve been proven correct.

In the end, several people pointed out that this was a message of hope and disappointment, not anger, and that, in fact, those white people who responded by saying “No, but look, you can trust me, and here’s why…” were actually themselves fulfilling the prophecy (you know, the one that says that eventually, we will make everything about our individual non-guilt, aka “us”, while at the same time saying “But it’s not about us”).

The thing is, I don’t know why anyone should expect anything different. What Tiffany says is absolutely right, and I’ve said it before – at any time, I can forget that I’m white (etc for all other forms of privilege I have) and that I’m benefiting from everything that entails in this society. I may do so out of carelessness, I may do so out of ignorance of historical or cultural context, or I may do so willfully, out of selfishness. But I can do it. An analogy comes to mind of how to communicate with someone when there’s a language barrier involved. Let’s skip the privilege inherent in the fact that we, as native speakers of English, tend to assume that others will make the attempt to communicate with us in English, regardless of where we are geographically speaking. Let’s also assume that the person we’re talking to has a fair knowledge of English, and that we’re beyond the condescending kind of loud-and-slow talk often used to parody attempts at this kind of conversation. This language barrier can be addressed if I, as the native speaker, can slow down my normal talking pace just a little, make sure I’m articulating everything clearly, and listen attentively and patiently while the other person is speaking. If you observe interactions where this is actually happening, you’ll see that the native English speaker tends to start off doing exactly this…and then slip. Speed up and become incomprehensible. Mumble a little. Go back to the comfort zone of how we’re used to talking. It may take a while, but it will happen. If a third person, also a native English speaker, joins the conversation, this will happen faster. And as the non-native speaker asks for repetition, asks questions or becomes unable to keep up, the patience may even start to fray – this person is demanding too much. It’s impossible for me to remain constantly conscious of the way I’m speaking.

Language (our first language) is something that we do so naturally (generally speaking) that it is extremely difficult to make fundamental alterations to our manner of speaking in order to accommodate someone we’re trying to communicate with. Of course we’re going to forget. Because we can. And when it’s pointed out to us, we can have the grace to apologize, repeat ourselves or reword, and reset our minds to consciously slowing down, or we can get pissed off and offload the responsibility for facilitating the communication onto the other person. What we probably never bothered to notice or think about was that it’s always been the other person’s responsibility to think about this communication. There’s been no opportunity whatsoever for her to slip and forget that there’s a language barrier, and there never will be such an opportunity.

I’ve had cause lately to think about trust in general and the commonly used phrase that one trusts another human being “100%”. Suffice it to say (at 2 a.m., while I’m feeling rather rude, I suppose) that I think it’s bollocks to say anything of the kind. The only way that I can see of trusting a person 100% is to assume that you can predict how he or she will react in every situation. In context, someone saying something like this generally means that s/he believes this other person will react supportively, positively, responsibly at all times, but realistically, that would make said person superhuman. One might be able to assume the opposite and then call that “trust”, because hey, at least you know what’s going to happen, even if it’s always negative, but in my experience, that never really holds true either.

I did some personal (ie. non-blog) writing on some of my thoughts as connected to trust a couple of months ago, in which I said, among other things:

I have a pattern of dehumanizing everyone I meet, either by setting up my superiority or by putting them on a pedestal and making it inevitable that they won’t live up to my outrageous, superhuman expectations of them, taking away their need to be flawed, broken, seeking and human…I probably “trust” [the former] more than I trust the one I’ve put on a pedestal, because, though I may not recognize it at the time, I’ve cast that ‘friend’ in a superhuman role and I have very specific expectations about how that should manifest itself. When they don’t follow the script, I get pissed off. It’s all or nothing…If I do [trust another person 100%], it’s because I’ve put them onto some kind of pedestal of infallibility from which they will inevitably fall.

Looking back at some of that brings up a lot of personal emotions, so forgive me if I’m having trouble bringing it back around to the general (also: insomnia), but this has been the kind of thinking I come back to in my moments of frustration with those who feel incredibly slighted to be not fully “trusted” as an individual or as a member of a group. These are thoughts I’ve written about before, and they’re probably thoughts I’ll need to write about again, because the extent to which the bulk of what I’m doing is learning the same general lesson over and over is becoming exceedingly apparent to me. If I get angry at myself for that, if I get angry at myself for forgetting, having those slips, missing something, needing to see the same lesson in a new light for a new situation…well, that’s generally because I’ve gotten lost again in thinking that somehow, I’m superior, I should be different, I should, in fact, be superhuman. And if I get angry at those who would point out my slips without considering that possibly they may, in fact, just be brief moments of making visible that simple, flawed humanity of mine I keep trying so hard to deny/ignore…well, then I’m pretty much fucked, actually, and I expect all of y’all to stop inviting me to your parties, virtual and otherwise.


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